Macbeth – Opera to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave with additional material by Andrea Maffei after Shakespeare [Revised Version of 1865 with the final scene from the Original 1847 version; sung in Italian]

Lady Macbeth – Sylvie Valayre
Macbeth – Andrzej Dobber
Banquo – Stanislav Shvets
Macduff – Peter Auty
Malcolm – Stephen Rooke
Doctor / Servant / Herald – Richard Mosley-Evans
Lady-in-Waiting – Svetlana Sozdateleva
Assassin – Douglas Rice-Bowen
A Lady – Julie Pasturaud
Fleance – Luke Owen
Apparition 1 – Christopher Dixon
Apparition 2 – George Evans-Thomas
Apparition 3 – Martha Jurowski

Glyndebourne Festival Chorus

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Staged for the Proms by Geoffrey Dolton

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 24 July, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Glyndebourne’s Proms visit this year was a semi-staged version of Richard Jones’s new production of Verdi’s “Macbeth”, which did not meet with universal critical acclaim when it was unveiled in Sussex, but in Geoffrey Dolton’s re-staging for the Royal Albert Hall many of the distracting aspects of the original were stripped away and this allowed the work to stand up for itself. And how!

One of the aspects that were rightly praised at Glyndebourne itself was the performance of the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski. Jurowski’s account of the score was taut, fleet, energetic and dramatic and extremely alert to all of Verdi’s myriad markings with regard to dynamics and tinta. Of all early- and middle-period Verdi, “Macbeth” has a very distinct soundworld, an opera that the composer was proud of in his later years. The score demands that the elemental aspects of Shakespeare’s play are musically depicted; much of the scenes involving Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are delineated in murmured tones, with plangent lower woodwinds and brooding string figures. The supernatural aspects have a rather more energetic quality and involve much brass and percussion as well as shrieking upper woodwind. The players of the LPO seemed to relish their moments in the spotlight and responded with amazing precision to Jurowski’s exhilarating tempos.

Numerous details abound in recollection. The flute and piccolo were very busy with many striking moments. The brass was also on fine form with dramatic sforzandi. The percussion were placed either side of the thrust stage and made its presence felt – not least with the menacing knocking on the gates of Glamis Castle as Banquo and Macduff arrive to arouse King Duncan – although some of the effects were marred by the over-reverberant echo of the Hall. The stage-management of the on- and off-stage bands used to herald the King’s arrival and for the apparition scene was spot-on. The, usually tiresome, Act Three ballet for the witches and evil spirits was included and was both played and choreographed with brio. We also got the original ending, which includes an extra aria for Macbeth and which jettisons the rather hollow-sounding victory chorus of the revision; rather than as a curious appendix on a recording, and although Macbeth’s demise is a little perfunctory, one does at least see the character at his death.

The principal singers were all very attuned to Jurowski’s approach and scrupulously observant of the composer’s intentions. Andrzej Dobber’s Macbeth was a triumph. He sounded great and his slightly melancholy baritone was ideal for the part. He sang with a true sense of line, and care for words and colour, even when singing very softly. His various monologues were dramatically economic and intense, and the character’s more lyrical outpourings were beautifully vocalised; rather introspective and the more interesting for that.

He had an excellent foil in the Lady Macbeth of Sylvie Valayre. This is the role famously described as needing the “voice of a she-devil”. Valayre isn’t perhaps quite that, but she was scrupulously accurate: the notes encompass such an extraordinary range. She perhaps lacks the punchy middle voice and full-throttle scenery-chomping abandon of the best interpreters, but the impossible piano high D at the end of the sleepwalking aria was perfectly sung. Her coloratura was accurate if occasionally a little unwieldy. She was a less extrovert Lady Macbeth than some others have been but her interaction and non-interaction with Macbeth was compelling. That she managed to maintain her dignity when donning and removing all those rubber hand-gloves during her sleepwalking scene was impressive enough.

The other protagonists have rather smaller roles. Stanislav Shvets was a sonorous if rather Russian-sounding Banquo and Peter Auty a ringing and affecting Macduff. He sang his aria very well indeed. Although with the original 1847 ending much of the role of Malcolm disappears Stephen Rooke made his presence felt, and his tenorial duetting with Auty’s Macduff sounded appropriately martial. A few of the smaller character roles deserve mention – Julie Pasturaud’s A Lady and Richard Mosley-Evans’s multiple impersonations in particular.

The chorus was on fine form, although as these singers were sometimes placed well at the back of the stage and centre of action they did not always make the impression they might have, ‘Patria oppressa’ being one example.

This Proms presentation was a pruned and simplified version of Glyndebourne’s staging, although the tartan-heavy costumes were retained. Three single individuals in amusing modern attire represented the witches. Yes, perhaps they were sent up a bit and some of the stage-play was a bit comic-strip, but an appropriate sense of black-comedy pervaded these moments. Ultimately though it is the orchestral performance and Dobber’s Macbeth that will remain as the dominant memory of this stimulating evening.

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